This was definitely the strangest off-season for me and a lot of my racecar driver friends. I’ve talked to a lot of great racecar drivers–I’ve talked to Jeff Burton, I’ve talked to Jimmie Johnson, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.–and we all agree that this was the strangest off-season we’ve ever had. Usually by the end of December, we’re all getting tensed up and getting ready to get in the cars for January testing.
Without the testing, it means another month that we get to ourselves, for all of the crew members and their families, and that’s a good thing.
We started our off-season with Thanksgiving. It’s a tradition, and Kim and the girls and I had about ten million people in our house. Kim and I are very family oriented, and we like to have our whole family together at our house for Thanksgiving. Kim’s got double ovens and a big refrigerator and so we always like to get everybody and have a real big Thanksgiving.
After that, we flew to California for a few days. We had a really good time going to the Santa Monica Pier with the girls. The girls were all excited; they wanted to see Lauren Conrad from The Hills on MTV. They got to see the house. Then we took off and went to the Mexican Riviera and took a cruise. We went to Cabo San Lucas, Porta Vallarta, and Mazatlan. That was a fun time because my whole family, me and Kim and the girls, got to be together.
Then we came back in time for Christmas, and we were excited to go to St. Louis, and we were able to spend a little bit longer in St. Louis than usual. We spent about 13 days there. It was a little bit sad this year, because we took Brooke back. Brooke moved out of home permanently. She’s 22 now. She does come back and forth between St. Louis and North Carolina.
We came back to North Carolina in January, and then on the 27th, I flew to Ocala, Florida. I’m thankful I got to spend a lot of time at home this year. I think the no testing policy gave everybody a chance to gather their brains and energy. When they first announced it, I was afraid to say that I liked all the time off, because I don’t want people to think I wasn’t a racer. But then as soon as guys like Jeff Gordon and Dale Junior said they liked it, it was like, “yeah!” and we all loved it because Mark Martin has got the best statement. He said several years ago, “I said I love racing, just not every single week.” We race a lot, and with the time off it really gave us time to energize ourselves. We need January off, because generally when the season’s over, you do Thanksgiving, and then Christmas, and then you’re back testing. You never really get any time off because you’re running all over the place with the holidays.
We went to Ocala at the end of January with my dirt car. We were supposed to race three nights, but we got rained out the first night. I got three wins and a second place and that won us the overall Winter Nationals championship. That was a lot of fun. I got to bring home a trophy and some pictures to the house.
Next, we went over to Volusia, Florida. That was just so much fun. The first day there, we won our heat, and we were leading with six laps to go in the A-main and got passed on the outside and finished second. Everything was great until the fourth night. That’s when everything went south on us. I finished second in my heat, and then in the feature, I was trying to avoid a wreck and I got flipped for the first time in my career. It was pretty spooky. It was the first time in my career that I flipped and ended up upside down with the car sitting there.
It was a great time though. We had Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick and Richard Childress out there with his grandson. After we flipped, we came back to run fifth the next night we ran, and everything was going good and then all of a sudden we took a hit in the left front of the car one night and after we got hit the car never ran good again.
We raced a total of seven nights of dirt racing. There were between 82 to 107 cars there every night and they started 28 cars every night in the A-main. There were only about five of us who made the A-main every night, and I was one of them. That was a big feather in our caps for Team JEGS and the dirt car! We made the A-main every single night, and that was big for our team. They had 107 cars show up at the dirt track and only 28 made the feature and we were one of them every night.
We understand the peaks and valleys. They’re a part of dirt racing. We race more in a few days than in a month in NASCAR. Kim is going to tease me. She knows how much I love dirt racing, and I always want her to come. But I can hear her in my ear right now, because I got my fill of dirt racing. We were racing every single night and it was great, but we tore the racecar up, and went through a lot of parts. We got our fill of dirt racing.
As soon as we get back from Daytona–Kim and I will get in Monday morning–I have to get on a plane on Monday night and fly to New Orleans for an event for U.S. Border Patrol. Then Kim and I are flying to California Thursday. Then we’re filming a Speed TV commercial on the Monday after California. Then we’re driving over to Vegas for that race. So it’s going to be a little crazy.